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Making the Jump

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Indian food has always had fans in Europe, but even more types of cuisines could and should make the jump, says Deepika Mital  

Having lived in Norway for close to seven years now, I am accustomed to being the exotic Indian. And what could be more exotic than Indian food? Mention the fact that you come from India and every European listener (well, almost every) will turn a little round-eyed and short of breath while always turning the conversation to food.

The mysteries of raita (almost non-existent) and the delicacies of naan are debated in hushed tones. There is a definite reverence and a touch of envy coming through—you are a lucky, lucky being who has the insider knowledge on how to make a spicy daal or chicken tandoori. And if you cannot make it, you know what it should ‘really’ taste like. My shoulders have gotten used to carrying the weight of this responsibility around. Even the people who regretfully confess that spicy Indian food is not for them, are nevertheless aware that they are missing out on something.

In the initial years of moving to Norway, I realised that traditional Indian self-deprecation wasn’t going to work. They thought I didn’t want to share my heritage or recipes. Indian food and cooking also rapidly became my bridge to the outside world. With no friends or even acquaintances and living in a faraway land, I turned to the food I had grown up with, to bridge the gap. This idea turned out to be such a huge success that very soon I was cooking for large groups and events as a volunteer and even working as a part-time chef in a cafe (but more on that later). Diverse groups like inmates of old age homes, volunteers at the local chapters of the Red Cross, my husband’s colleagues or random acquaintances were all very happy to subject themselves to my efforts, always in awe and suspense. As a direct result of this, the first unusual word I learnt in Norwegian was ‘spennende’ meaning ‘exciting’ or even in some cases ‘suspenseful’!

I have given a lot of cookery classes and find that the tried and tested dishes are definitely crowd-pleasers, even though they are quite open to tasting other dishes. Sometimes I am downbeat about how only North Indian cuisine has really made the jump across to the western world. The constant of naan and murgh tandoori is one of the tropes of Indian cuisine abroad. I find myself impassionedly talking about how varied Indian food really is. But then again, I am glad that they are interested and eager to learn—even if it is within the circumscribed frame of reference.

Given time, I am sure all the variety and taste of Indian food will triumph over the current sovereignty of Italian pizza and pasta...or at least I live in hope. And till that should come to pass, we should always be proud to be part of and flag-bearers for world-class food.

Deepika Mital is an Indian cook in Europe, a writer, no-nonsense martinet at home and avid traveller.

Short takes

  • The constant of naan and murgh tandoori  is one of the tropes of Indian cuisine abroad.
  • Even people who regretfully confess that spicy Indian food is not for them are aware they are missing out on something.

Here I share with you one of the most successful and popular Indian dishes in the world. The evergreen Murg Makhni (recipe adapted from Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal’s blog ‘A Perfect Bite’)

Murg Makhni or Butter Chicken

For marinade

  • 1 kg chicken breast fillets cut in medium-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp ginger paste
  • 2 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp chopped green coriander leaves
  • 1 /4 tsp red food colouring
  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt, or hung curd whipped
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Mix everything together, coating the chicken well. Leave mixture overnight in refrigerator. If short on time, marinate for a minimum of four hours.

Cook the marinated pieces of chicken in a moderately hot preheated oven (200°C) for 10 -12 minutes until the chicken is almost but not completely cooked. Pull out, baste with a little butter and return to oven. Cook for another two to three minutes. Remove and reserve.

For the gravy

  • 100 g Butter
  • 1 tbsp Ginger paste
  • 5-6 Green chillies, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Red chilli powder
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp Dry fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) toasted lightly on a griddle for a minute or so to crisp it up
  • 1 tbsp whole garam masala (green cardamom, cinnamon sticks, pepper corns, cloves)
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 400g Tomato puree
  • ½ tsp Garam masala powder
  • 2 tbsp Honey/sugar
  • 1 cup Cream

To make the gravy, heat butter in a pan. Add green cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon and sauté for two minutes, then add ginger-garlic paste and the chopped green chillis and cook for two more minutes. Add the tomato puree, red chilli powder, garam masala powder, salt and one cup of water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.

Stir in the sugar or honey and crumble in the kasoori methi. Add the cooked chicken pieces and simmer for five minutes. Swirl over the fresh cream and serve hot with naan.

Time: 4 hours preparation + 45 mins Cooking time

Serves: 6

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